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The Future of Work

Technology and globalisation are dramatically transforming the workers and workplaces of the future.

The modern workplace is constantly evolving. The water cooler and the 9-to-5 grind are quickly becoming relics of the past; what is in store for the future?

The Conversation has been running a series, the Future of Work, which looks at the way technology, globalisation, and demographic change are rapidly transforming the way we work in the 21st century.

Read stories from the series here.

On the rise of freelance workers: If you’re sick of sticking it to the man, is it truly better to become your own boss? University of South Australia’s Barbara Pocock highlights the imperfect freedoms that pose a challenge to independent contractors.

“As Dederer’s story shows, the freelancer’s life is not all a happy or smooth one, even in a bustling haven of freelancing like Seattle. Her household’s income is low and unpredictable: they do not starve, but there are unsteady moments. When her children come along, she describes the schizo-manic life of mother-worker, torn between the deadline and the playground.”

Read the full story here.

Home sweet office: A growing number of workers have flocked from the cubicle to the comfort of their own home. It’s time, London Metropolitan University’s Frances Holliss argues, that we started designing dwellings with this in mind.

“Cities and buildings designed around home-based work would inevitably take a different form. It’s time for us to explore this. Recognising the existence of the workhome – and its immense contemporary relevance – is a necessary first step.”

The growing precariat: Greater casualisation of the workforce will mean that job security will lessen significantly in the future, argues Monash University’s Veronica Sheen.

The dynamic of how casual work can masquerade as employment stability is illustrated by Patricia, who had been working for 18 months prior to interview as a ward’s clerk in a hospital in an outer suburb of Melbourne. After 12 months as a casual, she attained permanent part-time status for one day per week. However, she was still on call as a casual to work another two or three days per week, although there was always variability in days and hours of work.“

A boom - but for whom?: As Australia continues to reap the rewards from the resources boom, it’s logical to assume that demand for fly-in, fly-out workers will increase. QUT’s Alison McIntosh looks at the social and economic effects that large-scale transient workforces have on mining communities.

"Demand for resource sector workers undoubtedly means that FIFOs/DIDOs are here to stay. It is also clear that these practices have huge implications for host communities’ viability and wellbeing. The diminution of human, social, economic, institutional and environmental capital in mining regions jeopardises communities and towns, deters development or investment in alternative industry sectors and threatens sustainability.”

Technology and the death of leisure: Even when it’s time to tune out and relax after a hard day’s work, the instant email alert on your smartphone makes it impossible to switch off. We must be wary of becoming slaves to the machine, argues Monash University’s Anne Bardoel.

“There is no doubt that technology has changed the way we work and provides challenges for work-life balance. On the football field, the boundary marks the edge of the field. Inside the boundary, the ball is in play; beyond the boundary it is out of play. The trouble with the boundary between work and personal lives is that it is very permeable. As renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild identified, workplaces are greedy institutions and technology has allowed them by stealth to expand the boundary line and encroach on our personal lives.”

Sick of shift work: FIFO workers may be bringing in comfortable wages, but Griffith University’s Olav Muurlink holds serious concerns about the physical and psychological impacts on individuals.

Despite a hefty paypacket, he sleeps more nights in a “dongacamp” 1400 kilometres from home than he does under his own roof. Whereas 30 years ago, the typical Australian shift worker was a nurse, police officer, or other front-line emergency worker, Bureau of Statistics figures show that mining is single-handedly changing the face of the night owls.

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